Last Sunday the College
hosted a guest appearance of one of its own when Jon Stewart,
'84, returned to answer questions from students in William and
Mary Hall. The question-and-answer session, which was sponsored
by the University Centers Activities Board, drew a crowd of approximately
2,900 people, according to senior Mary Slonina, assistant director
of communications for UCAB.
UCAB set up an online form where students were able to submit
questions. UCAB selected 50 of the submitted questions to ask
Stewart as time permitted.
Al Albert, who was the head coach of the men's soccer team when
Stewart played here during his years at the College, took the
stage to introduce Stewart and detailed some of the highlights
of Stewart's College soccer career.
According to Albert, Stewart briefly considered continuing his
soccer career after graduation, but he "moved on into the real
The start of his eventual career path was evident even at the
College, according to Albert.
"Jon's wit was famous within the team,"he said. "No one would
dare even then engage him in verbal combat. None of us imagined
he would take things to the level that he has, but he was, even
in college, a very funny guy."
After relating a story of why he had come to the College in the
first place, Stewart explained why he had come back.
"Some of the best people I have ever met, I met down here,"he
said. "It was a different place than it is now, as I've talked
to some of the students, a lot of the students here say it's fun.
When I was here, I don't recall that adjective being tossed around."
Stewart echoed Albert's statement that his comedic talent began
during his college years.
"This was the first place I developed my humor,"he said.
Four UCAB members took turns reading the questions, but Stewart
also directed comments to other people in the audience who shouted.
For example, at one point a group of freshmen shouted out to Stewart
and he held a short conversation with the group.
"You graduate in 2006,"Stewart said. "Oh, that's the craziest
thing I've ever heard. When were you born? '84? Can I tell you
something weird? I'm your father."
An ongoing difficulty throughout the program was names of buildings
and dormitories that had changed since Stewart was at the College.
Many of the students who had submitted questions identified themselves
by first name, year and residence.
For example, one question was from a resident of Unit B, the house
for Beta Theta Pi.
"Unit B?"Stewart asked. "What is that, the psych ward?"
At times Stewart responded to students' questions with questions
of his own.
"What's the single most important thing I learned here?"he said.
"Always wear a condom. What are these questions? What's going
on here? We're here to talk, people."
A longer answer was in response to a question about how Stewart
became interested in comedy as a career.
"I don't really want to bum anybody out, but college is useless,"he
said. "I don't mean that in a bad way. I just mean that it costs
too much and it takes too long, and you don't learn enough. But
other than that -- it's really fun. The transition from college
to life is an enormous one."
"And unless you really know what you want to do, I would recommend
that you don't worry about it. It doesn't matter ... just get
good at it."
"Whatever it is that you do, don't add to the suckiness that is
out there. The world is filled with incompetence, and people doing
things they don't want to be doing. Do what you want to do, and
you'll get good at it, and you'll add to the discussion and the
dialogue. If you do what you don't want to do, you'll be bitter
and old and your parents."
One topic that Stewart discussed at length was prompted by a question
about Greek life during his years at the College.
"Greek life was, I'm assuming, a lot like what it is now -- a
false sense of friendship ... an abusive relationship under the
guise of camaraderie."
According to Stewart, he was a brother of Pi Kappa Alpha for six
months, but decided that membership in a fraternity "wasn't the
"I hope I'm not offending people that are in [fraternities and
sororities],"Stewart said. "I don't mean to be so harsh on [the
system.] There are things in it there are good, but ... I was
in Pi Kappa Alpha ... the letters themselves are meaningless.
People are people."
Stewart then made a general statement about his experiences with
the Greek system.
"My point is, as fun as it was to have parties in that house,
it wasn't worth the pressure of living up to someone else's expectations
as to what you're supposed to be, and going to meetings where
they had parliamentary procedure to discuss a toga party,"he said.
During the session Stewart responded to a variety of questions,
including whether he preferred boxers or briefs and if he would
go to a formal with one female student.
The session lasted approximately 90 minutes and ended when UCAB
members presented Stewart with gifts.
Stewart answers student media questions
Before his question and answer session Oct. 27 in William and
Mary Hall, Jon Stewart, '84, held a press conference for the College's
student media. Representatives from WMTV, the Colonial Echo and
The Flat Hat were in attendance. The following is a transcript
of relevant portions of their questions and Stewart's answers.
In your job, you mix entertainment with an attempt to report
the news. Do you try to balance them at all?
Well, for the most part we try just the entertainment, cause we
can't, we don't really have news-gathering capabilities. We really
are wholly and completely fake. But because we're dealing on issues
and realities and current events that's the context of what
we do, but we have absolutely no capacity to gather or report
on anything and wouldn't even try.
Most of the time if we have correspondents, we place them in front
of a picture of the places they're supposed to be at, but they
aren't actually there, because we also have no money. We are a
wholly and completely, 100 percent placebo news organization.
It's very exciting for us. So hopefully it's all entertainment.
Some polls say that most students our age get their news from
comedy news, like "The Daily Show."Does that bother you?
It's a crazy premise -- it's crazy, they're crazy to say
that. You couldn't get all your news from our show, because our
show wouldn't even make sense to you. Information in today's society
-- it's such a blizzard, white-out condition of information. Kids
get information by osmosis today. You can't go anywhere, you can't
log on to the internet ... without absorbing a variety of information.
And I think what's relevant about that quote, or even that piece
of information is that perhaps younger people are much more savvy
to the preposterous facade that news and politics put forth as
truth, and so they turn to any alternative source. I think that
probably is a more relevant statement for that. But the idea that
somehow kids get their news from late-night television comedy
Do you think then that in addition a comedy [news program]
is blowing off the facade and talking about what's really happening
in the world?
No, I mean ... honestly, we're just pointing out what we
see on TV that make us mad, and trying to make it as funny as
we can. We have absolutely no higher social relevancy or goal.
You know, if I really was wanting to create change and work hard,
I'd be doing something productive. You know, I'd be literally
helping people, as opposed to sitting in a room with my friends
going, 'You know what's funny?'
You know? I have great respect for people that are attempting
to implement change through actual direct work as opposed to me
and my friends sitting in the back of the room throwing tomatoes.
Do you think that you are helping people in some way?
Yes, laughter is healing ... It's hard to say. I mean, you
know, you hope that [you're] helping them in the sense that you're
putting on a program that is entertaining to people -- that smiling
is better than weeping, so in that sense, hopefully. ... But that's
not our goal. We're much more selfish than that. Our goal is to
have fun at work and to do stuff we care about.
How much of what we see on the show is actually you, and how
much is the writers? Have there been any instances where writers
have pressured you to do something that you don't personally agree
Right. Well, the beautiful thing about the show is I have
the ultimate editorial say ... You want to exercise that control
in a rational manner, because that has a lot to do with the morale
of the staff. ... I'd say 90 percent of what we do is pretty much
agreed upon. But a lot of that is, by the way, joke beats -- it's
not necessarily context or editorial content. ... So a lot of
it is the technical rhythm of humor as opposed to content -- but
yeah, ultimately ... we don't put things on the show.
The shows bounce, they're a meal, you can't be didactic, you can't
just say, 'This is our point of view ...' If the show wasn't informed
by a point of view, it'd be meaningless, it'd be 'Dukakis? What
kinda name is Dukakis?'
I have the luxury of being at the top of the pyramid, and if that's
a lesson for anybody, a great thing to be is the boss. It's pressure
in that sense, but it's a pressure that you earn with responsibility.
... And you take that responsibility -- it's my face, and that's
how we do it. It'd be a cop out for me to say, 'Yeah, there's
all kinds of stuff on there I don't agree with,' 'cause that's
not the case, it's not true.
You interview everyone on your show, from Ralph Nader to Miss
By the way -- the same person. Ralph Nader is Miss Piggy.
Nobody knows that, it's very interesting.
Do you just run the interviews the exact same way or do you
treat some interviews as more important or as more funny?
That's a great question. The interviews on our show, honestly,
are a smoke break, quite frankly. I mean, it's because we can't
... the pace of writing a half-hour comedy a night is a little
overwhelming. And it's a little overwhelming even to write what
we write. So the interview is a time when we can all go get a
slice of pie and some milk, and I just sit there and rattle at
people. Yeah, obviously, someone like Ralph Nader -- or anyone,
[John] McCain, [Bob] Dole, people in the public forum -- you have
to have a certain amount of information to have a discussion with
them, whereas with Miss Piggy, her policy choices are very clear.
She wants to marry the frog. So as long as you stay on that, she's
But yeah, you know ... I've found that to go into -- we've had
people on the show that, you know, ideologically I don't have
much in common with, and don't really want to have anything in
common with. Our show's not an attack show, we're not trying to
prove anything to anybody, we're not trying to call somebody on
the carpet. It's just a forum to have -- hopefully -- a smart,
funny conversation, and that's that.
What have you been doing since you've been back in the 'Burg?
Man, partying like a madman. If it's not Paul's Deli, it's
the Greenleafe. If it's not the Greenleafe, it's Paul's Deli.
I basically got down here last night, saw a soccer game, went
over to Coach's [soccer coach Al Albert] house, we had snacks,
a couple of beers. Then I got up this morning, had a deli sandwich,
and literally, in those 12 hours, did everything there is to do
in Williamsburg. It's a great place to visit for a weekend.
When you make your movies, how much fun do you have? For example,
in "Death to Smoochy,"you worked with Robin Williams, Edward Norton
and Danny DeVito. How much fun do you have with people like that?
... Movies are surprisingly stale in the process. I'm used
to television. I'm used to: we get in in the morning, everything
is moving towards that one moment when it's going to be on. You've
got that 6:30 deadline. Movies are, the pace of it is -- it's
a 16-hour day, of which you work maybe 45 minutes. And the rest
of it is sitting around while they twiddle with lights.
But it's awfully fun, too -- if you're going to sit around and
fuck off with somebody, it might as well be Robin Williams. That's
what makes it special, because as far as acting goes, I really
don't know what I'm doing, I will never know what I'm doing. I
just, when they yell cut, I go 'Did I seem mad?' And they'll go,
'Well, not really.' And I do it again. So, you know, in that sense,
I don't get a lot of pleasure from the actual work of it, but
the hanging-out's pretty good.
Will we see any more films from you in the future?
You might, right now through probably the 2004 elections I'll
probably be pretty wrapped up in the show. You know, whenever
something comes along, you never know, you never say never.
Was there any special motivation you had for coming back to
I keep in touch with Coach Albert and a couple of friends
-- Mike Flood and John Rasnic -- who were on the soccer team with
me. You know, I wanted to see them. But as far as allure, I don't
have ... you know, college is people. It's just the people you
go to college with. If they picked up this college and they moved
it to Akron, Ohio, it's still your friends are your friends are
your friends. So, I'm not a big fan ... not that I don't paint
the feathers on my face.
There's a rumor that you didn't particularly enjoy your time here.
Is there any truth to that?
How bad can it be? It's 5,000 people your age, half of whom are
girls. It can't be terrible, you know -- it was fine. But I was
a punk. I was 17 years old, I didn't know what the hell I was
doing, and if I had been smart, I wouldn't have gone to college.
Or at least, I wouldn't have gone to college right out of high
school. I was a lost person. But, that being said, what a lovely
place to be lost. ... it was also a very different place. It was
very conservative ... there was still a little bit of the North-South
thing here, very conservative. And I wasn't used to that.
Did people make fun of you because you were from New Jersey?
People made fun of me for all kinds of things. ... a kid
at Randolph Macon called me a kyke on the soccer field. You know,
it was just a different world. Not something that I was necessarily
What can we expect from "The Daily Show" while it's in Washington,
We're basically going to focus on the midterm elections,
because that's what the kids want to hear about. We're going to
have a nice School House Rock parody of the midterm elections
that we've been working on. We have a 'Welcome to Washington'
profile, we have a 'So, you want to be in politics?' profile.
And we have one where we sent one of our correspondents to trick-or-treat
on Embassy Row, and so we watch him trick-or-treat around the
world and ... the trouble he has in Iraq, you know, it's very